Towards a science and practice of resilience in the face of pain

Eur J Pain. 2017 Sep;21(8):1301-1315. doi: 10.1002/ejp.1062. Epub 2017 Jun 2.


The primary objective of this paper is to discuss how a resilience approach to (chronic) pain may advance our current understanding of (mal)adaptation to pain. Different resilience perspectives are described, and future challenges for research, prevention and treatment of (chronic) pain are discussed. Literature searches were performed in Web of Science and PubMed to identify relevant literature on risk and resilience in the context of pain. Resilience can be best defined as the ability to restore and sustain living a fulfilling life in the presence of pain. The Psychological Flexibility Model, the Broaden-and-Build Theory, and Self-Determination Theory are described as theories that may provide insight into resilience within the context of (chronic) pain. We describe how a resilience paradigm shifts the outcomes to pursue in pain research and intervention and argue the need for including positive outcomes in addition to negative outcomes. Psychological flexibility, positive affect and basic psychological needs satisfaction are described as potentially important resilience mechanisms with the potential to target both sustainability and recovery from pain. A resilience approach to chronic pain may have important implications for the prevention and treatment of chronic pain problems, as it may give specific indications on how to empower patients to continue living a fulfilling life (in the presence of pain).

Significance: The resilience approach put forward in this review spotlights sustainability of positive outcomes (e.g. engagement in meaningful activities) in the presence of pain as an outcome to pursue beyond recovery of negative outcomes. We illuminate the evidence-base and practical application of promising resilience mechanisms (positive emotions, psychological flexibility, needs satisfaction). For this article, a commentary is available at the Wiley Online Library.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Resilience, Psychological*